Published: 11 July 2018

Legislative Council Thursday 21 June, 2018

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I wish to make a contribution regarding the safety of our children, particularly schoolchildren on the north-west coast.  I know this is a problem around other parts of the state and for the children who attend the Boat Harbour Primary School.  I am disappointed that the member for Huon did not stay to listen because I am sure it affects children in his area too. 

This matter was raised with me many times by constituents and parents at the school over a number of years.  I have written to previous ministers and the current minister.  I wrote to the current minister's office a few weeks ago.  His office called me last week, saying they would have a letter from him by the end of this week.  I know it is not the end of the week yet, one more day to go, but I have not received a response.  The answers I received to one of the questions I asked today answers some of it. 

This matter is serious.  I will read you part of an email from one of the representatives of the school that outlines what the problem has been over the years.  I will talk about why it is such an issue and what I need the Government to do. 

Early in the 1990s, the Preolenna School closed and all children and equipment were transferred to the Boat Harbour Primary School, and a bus for children for Boat Harbour Primary School was guaranteed.  The bus service included Flowerdale, Bass Highway and Preolenna.  In the early 2000s, the pick-up place for this bus route was changed from Flowerdale on the Bass Highway to York Street, which is on the edge of Wynyard, as the highway was too dangerous.  This has caused problems with traffic congestion in York Street for local businesses and residents, and the local council has refused to erect a safety barrier.

I note the Leader's comments, in her reply to my question, about the biggest time of safety risk for children being getting on and off the bus.  Since then, ongoing issues of safety and overcrowding have occurred, which I have written to the minister about previously and again recently. 

Contact has been made by the principal, the school's P&F and the school association, with ministers, politicians other than me, with the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources, as it was, and now State Growth.  The current situation is that the legislation and regulations allow for 57 adults on the bus used, but the regulations provide for 80 children sitting on that bus - which is three over two, which means three children on a seat meant for two - plus 17 standing, a total of 97 children on a bus registered to transport 57 adults.

These are primary schoolchildren, yes, but I do not know if you have visited primary schools recently, particularly those in the country.  These children are not obese.  They are the normal up to 11 years old children we are talking about and that is what the regulations stipulate.  Three 11-year-olds on a seat for two - you have to be kidding.  Three eight-year-olds on a seat built for two is not necessarily appropriate either.  It is terribly dangerous.  The bus is a large old bus, with no seatbelts and has limited handles and support rails, despite the regulations requiring hang-on spots on the bus.  This road, particularly around the Preolenna/Flowerdale area, and onto the Bass Highway is a very busy section of the highway.  The small, narrow country lanes frequently carry log trucks, big farming equipment and milk trucks, not to mention normal residential vehicles and utes.

There have been frequent incidents of hurt children on the bus.  I asked the Leader if there have been any reports of injuries.  She said she was not aware of any.  There have been.  The most recent one was last week or the week before, when a child fell off the seat as the bus had to swerve off a narrow section of the road, to avoid collision with a log truck.  How can this be okay in our current state for our children?  One child sustained a cut lip, another a cut head and a serious bump on their head.  I cannot believe we have not acted sooner.  What do we have to wait for? 

Currently, on a bus registered to legally carry 97 children, 104 Boat Harbour Primary School children regularly travel on this bus.  They are not all on the bus every day.  Current counting shows between 75 and 85 children each day.  It is not okay.  The last two Saturdays, when my partner and I have done a morning walk, we have run into a group of four men who walk early on a Saturday morning.  Both times they have seen me coming, they have pulled me up and said what are you doing about our kids?

What are we doing about our kids?  I am hoping the letter from the minister, which I believe will arrive tomorrow, will tell me what he is doing.  It is his electorate too.  I am sure he cares about these children as much as I do.  His message to me was they wanted to come up with a solution, not some half-baked response to me.  I appreciate this, because he knows what would happen if they sent a half-baked response.

These children travel on this bus for a variety of reasons.  People ask why there so many on the bus.  There are issues with extended and blended split families, issues to do with child care, and behaviour transfers from another school to Boat Harbour Primary School.  The school is receiving weekly reports of congestion regarding local businesses and residents in York Street, in the bus shelter area, with parent parking and children waiting.  It is not safe, it is not okay.

I fully support the solution proposed by the school to split the current bus route into two, providing two safer, smaller buses with seatbelts.  The Leader said the smaller buses have the seatbelts.  Bus one would do the Bass Highway/Flowerdale/Preolenna area and continue with the current contractor's bus lines, which would be approximately 40 children.  That could be managed.  Bus two would do the Flowerdale/Bass Highway/York Street.  That could be contracted to a separate bus to run services in the area that has a large depot in York Street.  These children could actually be taken off York Street, rather than blocking the street and causing a problem.  They could wait in the bus depot if that bus line is the one who provides the service.  It is a safe waiting place for children and parents.

This is an urgent problem.  It was raised on ABC Radio.  One of the parents was so frustrated she rang Leon Compton.  He was mortified.  We did hear other calls from other parts of the state.  I am sure all of you in your electorates, particularly if you have rural areas, will probably have similar things going on.  This has been raised time and time again.  These roads are winding and dangerous, and used by log trucks, milk trucks, and farm equipment.  The Bass Highway is a very heavily utilised section of road.  Just pulling out onto it can be a nightmare in a car, let alone a bus full of kids.  Let us see something happen pretty urgently to protect our children before the worst thing that can happen does.  A head injury is enough, a cut lip is enough.  Let us not wait for something worse.

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